Tuesday, September 26, 2006


"There are no bad fund raisers and there are no bad Fundraising campaigns. There are only bad visions and dreams." Robert Schuller

Generally speaking, I'm not one to balk at the prospect of proffering an obol, when said obol is requested, to the cause of the advancement of humanity, especially if such a cause will ensure that a superannuated progenitor of other members of the genus can live out the rest of her days in peace and obscurity without blighting the lifestyles of her beneficiaries or that a field of grass upon which the treated carcass of a bovine martyr slaughtered in anger can be manipulated by the side of the foot of a brawny hoplite with an expression on his face a cross between a village idiot and an unintelligent fried egg, into a woven net can be saved from insolvency, if that will ensure the continuation of the race.
The basic principle also applies to politicians in my view. If a politician of the blood cannot extract an obol from one cut from the same ream of loom-woven cloth in order to spare us the trouble of traversing the labyrinths of power ourselves and having to make interminably long speeches that would only otherwise be the prerogative of the Annual Report of a Rusfetistani community president, then where would we all be, I should like to know? Furthermore, in my estimation, being able to allude to an affinity, nay, even a conversation or two with said servant of the people, provides one with a polished, well-versed in the affairs of the world aura that would otherwise require years of salivatic secretions and glottal massages to maintain.
It was for this reason that I found myself a few Saturdays ago, along with the well tempered horde of Rusfetistani community doyens, arriving at the genial and convivial surrounds of a function center, wherein one of our own servants of the people would be feted and placed well and truly into funds. Armed with a war chest the size of which only our community could provide her with, a friend speculated, the servant of the people could conceivably have her tram fare to her office fully subsidized for the duration of her election campaign and that surely is a decent trade for a chance to shake her hand and be photographed with her as benefactor and close personal aide-de-camp.
Invariably upon arriving at what former NKEE spinal cord and now our 'man of the Cyprus High Commission in Canberra' Dimitris Tsahuridis, termed a 'geldin,' a unique term, derived from the Turkish to be applied only to Melburnian Rusfetistani community functions, the prescribed order of laryngeal genuflections is as follows: 1. Crane neck forward to see who else has arrived. 2. Crane neck even more forward in order to see list of invitees and attendees. 3. Speculate who was not invited/attending and why 4. Greet host. 5. Comment or consider history of host with peers. 6. Examine who else host is talking to and why. 7. While taking a seat, and this requires some delicacy and its mastery is indicative of Antipodean good deportment, crane neck forward and consider who it is worth striding over to greet and whom it is incumbent upon, to rise from their seat to greet you. Presidents of Federations should be greeted, those of smaller clubs ignored. As a rule, journalists only greet politicians, whereas authors are so publicity starved that they will even greet the catering staff. Community lawyers, their teeth re-whitened and glistening in a selachimorphic smile greet everyone, in the hope of finding a client who has not paid his bill, or foundering across a school of potential of compatriots who will fund their childrens' private school education.

As I ensconced myself to the left of the bread rolls, acknowledging with a vague wave converted to a nose scratch, a cohort of diehard devotees of the Party of Honest Toil, I perceived in the distance, a familiar figure, attempting to press himself into the plaster of the adjacent wall, causing him to remain as obscure and unobtrusive as a buffalo in a tutu pirouetting upon the stage of the Bolshoi, in gross contradistinction to the rest of the geldinoids. With the agility of a brown bear newly awakened from hibernation locating his first beehive, I snuck up behind him and placed my hand on his shoulder. "Gotcha," I announced triumphantly. He spun around with a sort of guilty bound, like an adagio dancer surprised while watering the cat's milk.
"Aren't you supposed to be an adherent of the Party of the Relaxed and Comfortable Compatriots?" I asked. "What are you doing here? Is this the opportune moment to expose yourself as a stool pigeon of the worst order?"
"I'm doing it for our servant of the people," he stammered. "She needs our support. Please don't tell anyone." And with that, he buried his face in his already considerably diminished wine-glass. As I walked back to my seat, I heard someone exclaim: "Hang on! Don't I know you? What are you doing here?" The expression on this selfless cross-grained benefactor's face could only be likened unto that of a man who stooping to pluck a small assortment of wild flowers on a railway line, is unexpectedly struck in the small of the back by the V-line express.
As the token band launched into the first of a series of Rusfetistanified Laendleren, the singer launching into a credible parody of that vegetable-grater larynxed troubadour Yiorgos Margaritis, I fell into a reverie, which was quite difficult as I was intermittedly aroused from it to pass the salad, the dips and the vagrant bottle of VB that threatened to elope with my lips. I mused that in a completely free marketised world, we should conceivably deem our servants of the people to be bodies corporate. This being so, we could all purchase shares in such bodies, the majority shareholder determining the modus operandi of each such body and it relative position in the hierarchy of bouillon cubes that comprise the public soup. Of course a captain of industry could own a majority shareholding in a majority of party members and could therefore determine policy for that party. But nothing could stop members of the Rusfetistani community rationalising their resources with a view to majority purchasing some really decent pollies as they once did in their homeland. This would mark the apogee of multiculturalism. Shares in such pollies could be traded according to their rising or declining fortunes and fundraising events such as the one I was blissfully tuned off from at that very moment could be seen as launches before a major share float of the likes Sol Trujillo has only countenanced in his most pimentoed Mexican dreams. The only drawback as I could see it, was that such shares would be expected to pay dividends, the execution of which would require vast and revolutionary changes in the culture of our Houses of Babblement. Still, a majority Rusfetistani shareholding in a few key seats could make all the difference to an impoverished elector who cannot get a permit to construct a fifth tier upon his wedding cake Templestowe mansion….
Eventually, like a dog perusing Hansard only to learn that in the second reading speech it was suggested that bones be taxed as a luxury item, I was startled from my musings by the announcement that the decidedly non-geldinoid companion sitting at our servant of the people's table was in fact, an august senior member and power broker of the Party of Honest Toil and that he was about to address us. Into the face of the man who sat upon the table there crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look that announces that an Anglo-Celt is about to talk French.
He didn't. Instead, that august scion of the Roman governmental hierarchy launched into an earnest and heartfelt declamation as to his admiration for our collective and singular personages, expressing his deep and humble gratitude for the great changes that we have jointly and severally wreaked upon our adopted land. While I reached for a share certificate, wondering who this high-ranking servant of the people's majority shareholder was, a gasp went up from the otherwise placated geldinoids.
For the good servant of the people was waxing lyrical about the fact that he had just arrived from a sporting-club function, where, we would be pleased to note, the erstwhile ethnic name of that club had been pasteurized and homogenized. Furthermore, while a decade ago the vast majority of the members of that club were of a homogenous extraction, at least 30% of the club players now were as Anglo-Saxon as Aethelred the Unready himself. Isn't multiculturalism wonderful?
The gaggle of geldinoids signed in semitones of chromatic scepticism and several could be seen shaking their heads sadly. On our table, an immense bull of a man snorted impatiently that one could put up with speeches of this sort if only the food was more plentiful. I readily agreed though I was lost in another reverie of my own. For from the position I was sitting, august Father of the People looked disconcertingly enough to be the spitting image of another Father of the People, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah of the Lebanese Hezbollah. As I pondered whether F of P and Nasrallah had ever been sighted in a room sitting together and watched the geldinoids shrug disinterested as Sheikh F of P explained how important it was to the fabric of our society not to discriminate against or exclude Ishmaelites from our national narrative, I had a vision of cluster bombs being dropped from the sky, decimating the entire geldin and pounding the Honest Toilers into submission.
Moments after I left the gathering, my wallet not so considerably lighter than anyone else's, I received a telephone call from a yoda like geldinoid informing me that I had just won a bottle of Retsina in the raffle. Dividend One paid. Now square we are. By the way, casting to one side Andrew Parker Junior's assertion that "We should never forget that no fundraising effort succeeds unless one person asks another person for money," what say you of the right of the State of Rusfetistan and ancillary customs to exist?

First published in NKEE on 25 September 2006

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


A young Cappadocian family, persecuted by jealous villagers seeks refuge in Smyrna. There, protected aided and abetted by the earthly incarnation of the Assyrian goddess Astarte, the females of that family learn magic and use it to kill, coerce, lie, seduce and otherwise climb their way to the highest echelons of Ottoman Smyrnan society. Years later, after the main protagonist, having killed her husband and fled Smyrna for the safety of Greece dies, her spirit merges with that of her niece and the cycle repeats itself again under Astarte's divine guidance, this time for the greater good, not that of the individual. Quoth Astarte when questioned why she protected those under her tutelage even when they caused suffering to others: "I like my girls to have fun."
There in a nutshell, is the basic plot of the best-selling novel "The Witches of Smyrna," which has taken Greece by storm and is currently being screened as a television serial. Touted as a foray into the world of magical realism, an iconoclastic pursuit in itself given the staid, formulaic and conformity-obsessed condition of Modern Greek literature, it is a multi-faceted novel whose appeal and importance to Greek literature should not be underestimated.
The language employed to convey the story is not particularly inspiring. There are no florid or vivid evocations of the sights, smells and tastes of Ottoman Smyrna. Instead, the author, Mara Meimaridi has adopted an impressionistic, televisual approach: our glimpses into that lost and destroyed world of Ottoman Smyrna, rural Cappadocia and finally Aegina of the 60's are granted to us directly through the eyes of the main protagonists. Thus we don't read about Smyrna. The vivid conversational prose ensures that we are actually there. This unity of the written word with the reader, exemplified by the author having her main protagonist read her aunt's diary in order to understand her life while at the same time uniting their souls in one body, clearly expresses her view of the role of the author. In this, the author is astoundingly skilled.
At the same time, the book is a veritable compendium of Smyrniot phrases and words that have long since fallen out of use in the Greek language. Idiomatic Greek, Turkish and a good deal of Francolevantine words make their appearance in the daily conversation of the characters of the novel, causing the reader to scurry to the vocabulary list at the rear of the book. The author is uncompromising in immersing the reader in her world and it is incumbent upon the reader to assimilate into it. The Greek-Australian reader notes with amusement that the Francolevantine utterances are the most comprehensible as they are parodies of English and French words constructed in the same manner as Gringlish in this country.
It is this melting pot of cultures and languages that permits the author to cast Smyrna as the central topos for the unfolding of her central, syncretistic message, which seems to be vacillate between the unity of womanhood and the ultimate veracity of all paths that lead to Truth. Even Astarte, the Great Mother Goddess, is said to ultimately believe in "the souls of her children." The fruit of the author's painstaking research is a reconstruction of Ottoman society. The veil of time is magically swept aside and we are permitted to glimpse the daily trials of poor Turkish, Armenian and Greek families eking out a living in squalor, the follies, snobbery but also ingenuity of the wealthier classes, the unsettling and ominously predatory manifestation of raw power as wielded by the ruling class of Pashas and Sultans. This is a mythologisation of a demythologized Smyrna that belongs to no one and everyone at the same time. This paradox is best expressed by one of the main protagonists of the work, Katina. Whereas all other refugees cast Smyrna in the romantic light of a lost paradise, Katina curses Smyrna for taking her husband and world away from her, even though, she killed her husband herself. This is a telling and sophisticated fable whose moral points to who really is responsible for the loss of Ottoman Smyrna. Materialism? Willful blindness? Egotism? Racism? Take your pick.
It is in particular Meimaridi's unflinching portrayal of the undercurrent racism underlying the class structure of Smyrna that has caused controversy. She deliberately has her characters make derogatory remarks about their Armenian neighbours, contemptuous comments about Jews and their neighbourhoods and in particular, about the Turks. This has led the author into hot water, with authorities in Turkey suing her Turkish publisher for violating the Turkish law against "insulting Turkishness," especially in regard to her supposedly negative portrayal of Turkish women. Yet while the author does have her Greek characters express their views about Turkish slums and what they consider to be their 'backwardness,' though she portrays the Turks as invariably hostile towards Greeks, she permits her characters to befriend Turks. The Turkish Pasha becomes Katina's friend and protector, as does the wife of the Sultan. The Goddess Astarte herself is incarnated as a wise Turkish woman and in keeping with the central message of the novel, all women, regardless of age, are considered sisters, unless they are at cross-purposes. Greek idle upper-class women, in comparison, get a total flogging from the author while Katina switches effortlessly from being Greek to Turkish depending on her situation. If she does have any identity, it is as a woman and as a Cappadocian. As Astarte says: "Good and evil are the same thing. What is good for you, is evil for someone else." It appears that the paranoid Turkish censors, brought up on kitschy Kemalist propaganda lack the perspicacity to comprehend the symbolism that destroys the dichotomy of good and evil, friend or foe and makes us all fellow sufferers.
One of the central motifs of the novel is witchcraft. It is witchcraft, passed down the female line and transmuted to all worthy women regardless of age that is responsible for the development of the plot. This attempt at magical realism, having its precedent in Petriniotis’ novel: "Christian and Orthodox Turks" where the ghosts of Constantine Paleologos and Mehmet the conqueror roam around the walls of their city is skilled but ultimately fails. The key to magical realism as perfected by such masters of the art as Gabriel Garcia Marquez is to present a scenario that is magical but also somehow despite this, plausible. Marquez' use of magical realism thus underlies the paradoxical and illogical nature of Colombian society. Meimeridi's use of the art certainly does evoke a mystical world whose prime mover is an old Turkish woman living in a slum and whose teaching points and highlights are cleverly secreted in the text and almost overlooked in a first reading, just like the witches' charms which are carefully buried or hidden on the target person. However, Meimaridi destroys the mystery and magic by having Astarte explain herself and how she fits into the cosmos. This coupled, with Katina's implausible travels and inexplicable inactivity upon fleeing Smyrna, her unsubtle merging with her niece and reincarnation render the mystery and high sense of drama charmed into the novel, into little more than high farce. The choice of the Assyrian goddess of lust as "Mother" of all women is also questionable. Surely the native Anatolian Mother Goddess Cybele, a life-death-rebirth deity in whose honour men ritually castrated themselves would have being a more plausible, logical and better fitting choice. On the other hand, Astarte was the goddess of sexuality, fertility and war… qualities that are present in the novel's characters but are inconsistent with the mother protector Astarte is supposed to be.
Meimaridi's portrayal of women in the novel should also be considered carefully. Women are generally portrayed as vulnerable and insecure. The 'unenlightened' ones subject themselves to the whims of their husbands and enjoy a relatively miserable life. On the other hand, the 'enlightened' ones are those who, having had the power of magic handed to them, can influence events and look after themselves despite male hegemony. For them, males are egotistical creatures who cannot love or protect women. As a result, it is incumbent upon every woman to exploit men, their connections, wealth and the opportunities they provide in order to create a better life for themselves and so that when their men fail them, they can look after themselves. Thus Katina bewitches her husband into falling in love with her and doing her bidding. She views her husbands as mere chattels and when she fails to convince her husband to abandon Smyrna, having been magically forewarned of the oncoming catastrophe, she leaves him to his fate. Later, upon her return, seeing him making love to her friend, she kills him. When the ghost of that friend accuses her of murder and tells her she had no right to commit it as she never really loved her husband, Katina retorts: "He was mine. You had no right to take him." Interestingly enough, I have often heard such conceptions of males hinted at and often blatantly stated in conversations among elderly Greek women and Meimaridi's approach to the issue is powerful to say the least. Sometimes, Meimaridis purposely inverts the laws of her magical cosmos. Though men are without the world of magic, she portrays neomartyr Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Smyrna having a telepathic conversation with a mute girl. “Who are you” she asks. “I am a shepherd whose flock is being mistreated,” he replies. “Is that why you have to die?” she enquires. “Yes,” he replies in a reference to an actual historic event, the public torturing and lynching of Chrysostomos by the enraged Turkish mob, that also hints to a power even beyond that Astarte wields.
It is indeed the mark of a truly promising author to evoke in the reader such a powerful sympathy with the character' of her work, especially when those characters are thoroughly unpleasant. Though the novel verges on the Orientalist, this possibly is a reflection of a culture that has turned its back on its Eastern traditions and having been semi-Westernised, is groping tentatively at its exotic past, rather than any prejudice on the author's part. As a first novel then, the "Witches of Smyrna" is superb and a must read for all those who long for a bit of magic in their lives, malevolent or otherwise.
First published in NKEE on 18 September 2006

Monday, September 11, 2006


There is no Orthrus guarding the cattle of Geryon here. Instead you are met at the gates by two white pointers, their truncated tails wagging in anticipation. Yet let not the dissimulation of friendliness fool you. Your safe passage down the driveway is solely at their discretion, for they have been known to attempt to rip pieces of flesh from unworthy intruders and not even the commands of their master can deter them from barring the malevolent from their abode.
You proceed down the concrete driveway, past the herd of cars waiting their turn silently, in single file and you arrive at the gates of the Labyrinth. The garage door yawns open, emanating a chasm of darkness from within. Nothing can be seen and the sounds of clashing metal and signing steam fill the ears with trepidation. Gingerly, you proceed into the void and…into the workshop of Daedalus.
A multitude of tools hang listlessly from the walls, interlocking with each other as if a vast shimmering mirror of chrome, iron and steel. Your form appears distorted upon their surface; your prismatic reflection dissected and separated into its constituent parts reduces you too, into a mass of interlocking cogwheels, oils and lubricants. Subconsciously, you wince as you rub that recurring ache in your neck, lamenting that these tools cannot loosen the screws that have grown tighter and cross-threaded with age and that your oils have become clogged with the residue and refuse of subsistence but cannot be changed.
You brush past old exhaust pipes, gear boxes, seals and gaskets, all hanging neatly against the wall with the same precision and indifference as a butcher hangs the vital organs of a lamb from his ceiling under a sign "Lamb's pluck $2.00" These are the casualties of migrant living: A gasket blown while driving into the country to secure a supply of decent manure for the vegetable patch, a differential rebelling while driving to a wedding. If only these vital organs could talk and they do, for their erstwhile owners invariably return to them, offering their stories in supplication to the ingenious Daedalus who alone may extract them and transplant them with the precision of a microsurgeon, in order to safeguard his suppliants' mobility.
As you proceed further, your eyes adjust to the semi darkness. Looking up, you notice a message hastily written with black texta upon a side of a cardboard box: "Φίλε, αν δεν έχεις, να έρχεσαι να παίρνεις. Αν έχεις, να μην έρχεσαι να παίρνεις." Engrossed in speculation about the hidden meaning of this mantra, you stub your toe upon a transmission lying at your feet. This was one of the ones not even Daedalus could fix. It remains on the dank, oil-stained concrete below, its insides spilling seals and metal discs in a sorry metaphor for the inevitability of decay and futility of immortality. Now you know the meaning of the sign. If you cannot offer the worn and damaged constituent parts of your mobility to the entombed and imprisoned within his labyrinthine domain Daedalus, then there is nothing to be gained from entering his hermitage.
You pass rows and rows of shelves covered in old rags, festooned with nuts and bolts and rusty, superannuated tools. Above you another sign looms: "Ο δανειστής των εργαλείων λείπει. Πήγε να βρεί τα εργαλεία αυτών στους οποίους τα δάνεισε." For Daedalus cannot but offer the potentiality of mechanized salvation to all of mankind, even if this does result in a diminution of the subjects of his realm. They are merely a manifestation of his omnipresence and a rusted refuge for the ravaged refuse of time.
Finally, your reach your destination; the center of the labyrinth. A series of throat y grunts and the clashing of metal can be heard from a pit below your feet. Suddenly, the tread of heavy footsteps crunches up the stairs and he emerges, not the Minotaur but Daedalus.
The first thing you notice about Daedalus is that he is immensely tall. The second is his broad smile and his hands, which are constantly fidgeting; touching one tool or accessory after another as he speaks as if thinking is a tactile operation. Among the wasteland of untrustworthy mechanics, this Daedalus, who goes by the decidedly unmythological appellation of Jim, is a bastion of reliability and ingenious application. His life story too is full of the stuff mythology is made on.
Odysseus-like, the young Jim left his homeland of Samos and embarked on his own Odyssey, serving as a ship's mechanic, a worthy apprenticeship for a master of machines. Unlike Odysseus however and having despaired of returning to a land where no Penelope was there to await his return, he sought refuge in the isle of Calypso and has remained there ever since, his heart fixed forever upon the sea, his body ensconced the custom made labyrinthine workshop of his own creation, there to achieve the heights of technical impossibility by restoring implausible engines back to life.
To visit this modern day Daedalus in his labyrinth is a singular experience. For visitors not only come away with their cars resurrected but also a good deal of knowledge and philosophy to boot. The indefatigable Daedalus is quick to regale his companions, Homer-like with the saga of his own life, discuss the culinary habits of the ancient Greeks or the gardening practices of the Ottoman times. And what's more, such interests transcend the theoretical. A wine press stands in one corner awaiting the proper season for its use. A visitor to the labyrinth during wine-making season will not just sit by and chat idly while his car is being repaired. On the contrary, he will be expected to lend a hand, squeezing the grapes of ingenuity in the wine press of continuity and invariably, be called upon to savour the results.
Woodcarvings of Samos and ancient Samian ships upon the walls of the labyrinth, along with a large library incongruously wedged between spare parts attest to this Daedalus' polymathy. Most importantly however, he is the center of a greater labyrinth, winding its way across the twists and turns of the Greek community of the inner north western suburbs. The confused or bewildered compatriot who seeks a trustworthy painter or electrician has but to enquire this of the denizen of the labyrinth, who in turn, will invariably provide him with a list of appropriate tradespeople, word of mouth testimonials as to their skills as well as a complete history not only of where they have worked but of the chief events of their life as well. Such a recommendation is a guarantee of performance and it also ensures that a community, which is not as "in your face" as that which exists in various other parts of Melbourne, does not lose touch with its members.
In ancient mythology, Daedalus was imprisoned in the labyrinth for murdering his nephew in a fit of jealous rage after the poor boy was inspired by a shark's jawbone to invent the saw. In an inversion to this myth, the nephew of our modern-day Daedalus can often be seen entering the labyrinth requesting a loan of his chainsaw, in predictable violation of the embargo on borrowing tools. Further, Daedalus Jim was voluntarily immured himself in his labyrinth and shows no intention of emerging from it. If anything, his Minotaur is the ever-diminishing fear that there will come a time when an engine will be offered to him that he will not be able to fix. Fat chance.
In my last visit to the labyrinth, Daedalus Jim was expounding at length about his collection of authentic rembetika recordings and listing the differences in tonal modulations between the Asia Minor coast and the islands of the Aegean. Subsequently, he proceeded to analysedApodimi Compania's haunting arrangement of Ariadne's song, to be found on their Melisma CD.
I interjected, asking him whether he, like Daedalus before him would ever conceive of fashioning wings to fly far and way from his workplace. "Not a chance," he riposted. "When I turn on the radio and listen to rembetika, put a spanner in my hand and crawl into the pit to start work, I am already flying. Plus, what Samian would fly over Samos without stopping by. If Daedalus knew what he was doing, he would have landed in Samos instead of trying to fly to Icaria and his son's wings would not have melted." As he started to expound at length his views of aerodynamics and aeronautical engineering, setting out how the basic design of Icarus' wings could be improved, having regard to the working drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci and the innovations of the Wright brothers, I left him to perform his customary miracles upon my long-suffering vehicle, dodging the ball of string that his two dogs were intent upon disemboweling rather than unraveling, listening to the clichéd but passionate lyrics of Stamatis Gonidis issue from the recesses of the labyrinth's radio: "Έχω πετάξει μαζί σου.."

First published in NKEE on 11 September 2006

Monday, September 04, 2006


In the 2001 movie "The Man who sued God," Billy Connolly plays an ex-lawyer who sues God because his boat is struck by lightning, and his insurance company claims it to be an act of God. By claiming to be God's representatives on earth, the Christian church is held to be the liable party, putting them in the difficult position of either having to pay out large sums of money, or proving that God does not exist.
While the concept of putting God on trial is not new and indeed the Old Testament Book of Job can and has been interpreted as such a trial, a situation such as that envisaged by "The Man who sued God" seems farcical and though entertaining, apparently so far removed from reality as to render any discussion as to its plausibility ridiculous.
Or so it would seem. Yet it is a little known fact that the justice system of some States has permitted the summons of certain deities to court, especially ones that are not held in high esteem by the State itself. In particular, in 1959, the National Real Estate Directory of Turkey, Milli Ermak made orders against the personages of Jesus Christ, his mother Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, when they did not respond to a summons or show up in Court. This all sounds like a sick joke but it is not.
Readers will recall that the fifities were an extremely difficult time for the Greeks of Turkey. According to new evidence recently published in Spyros Vrionis' excellent book: "The Mechanism of Catastrophe," the British government, in an attempt to thwart the Cypriots' campign for decolonization and enosis with Greece, 'encouraged' an initially reluctant Turkey to make rival claims to the island and also 'suggested' that a few domestic disturbances against the native Greek minority of Turkey would also be of assistance.
The results of such suggestions culminated in the September 1955 pogrom against the Greek community of Constantinople, which we commemorate this month. This unspeakable act of ethnic cleansing led to the detruction of its property, heinous crimes of violence committed against its members and its decimation and terminal decline from a few hundred thousand in the fities to less than two thousand today. Given that this terrible crime seems to have been sanctioned by at least one world power, international outcry was muted, permitting the Turkish government of the time, led by Adnan Menderes, who was later hanged for his efforts, to proceed to greater depravities and humiliations against Turkey's Christian minorities. One of these, was the confiscation of their community property and it is within this context that it that the extraordinary trial of Jesus, Mary and various siants took place.
According to a recent report by the Turkish daily newspaper Sabah, on 11 November 1959, through the Istanbul police, the Turkish Court issued a summons for Mariam Bind Ovahim (Mary, daughter of Joachim) to appear in Court. Police reported (in all seriousness) that the said Mariam could not be located. On 8 January 1960, the Court entered summary judgment against her in her absence. Quoth the august judge: "Since Mariam Bind Ovahim is nowhere to be found, her property will revert to the state."
This groundbreaking advance of jurisprudence that permits jurisdictions to extend their sway to the heavely realms in what would have been considered 'heaven' (pardon the pun) to the Soviet, athiest Bezbozhnik journalists and lawyers alike, had interesting consequences. Large properties in Constantinople belonging to the said Mariam Bind Ovahim were confiscated without delay. Subsequently, the National Real Estate Directorate brought lawsuits against 80 different holy persons (all venerated exclusively by Christians) who also had the temerity, owing to their translation to heavenly abodes, not to appear in the court to plead their case. In this manner, approximately 300 different properties were confiscated, the total value of these amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars by today's property values. Milli Ermak then applied itself to the confiscation of similar properties in regions where significant Christian minorities remained, such as in the Tur Abdin and Mardin, the preserve of the Syriac community.
Confronted by such an outstanding example of the flexibility of jurisdiction, it is quite possible to miss an equally exciting development in property law - the recognition of title to land for supernatural beings. It is perhaps a triumph of the capitalist system that Turkey was so eager to enforce during the Cold War in order to secure American aid, that the major supernatural beings of the Christian world are permitted to be wealthy landholders and in what can be only considered as divine condescension on their part, submit to the payment of human taxes. A farce unsurpassed even by the most caustic of moral fables of Nasreddin Hodja? Sadly not.
Pursuant to a 1913 decree promulgated by the Neo-Turk triumvirate, which also oversaw the genocide of the Christians of Asia Minor, Christian religious foundations were compelled to register their property under the names of Biblical personages such as for example, the Jesus Foundation, the Mary Foundation, the Angel Gabriel Foundation, and other similar titles. In 1936 authorities demanded that Christians should register their property again but Christian foundations were forbidden from owning any property. During the court proceedings instituted by the state in order to confiscate these properties, their Biblical 'owners' were treated as ordinary human citizens. When they did not show up to Court to assert their property rights, the government confiscated their estates. Such confiscations also took place during 1956-1960, 1975-1979 and also 1982-1991.
When hapless Church leaders went to the court to claim properties confiscated or occupied by the Turkish authorities they were told that only the people under whose name the properties were registered could qualify to do so. They were asked questions such as: "Where is Jesus, and the Virgin Mary the true owners of these estates? Do they have descendants who could be treated as beneficiaries?" Possibly, if Dan Brown is to be believed. But even if he is not, a sequel to the Da Vinci Code where a state conspiracy exists to steal the properties belonging to Jesus' bloodline, would not be so far fetched as it sounds, that is of course, if we accept the premise that Jesus Christ bin Allah was a Turkish citizen. If he was an inhabitant of Victoria, his land tax liability would have been crippling and the confiscation of his properties, a godsend.
The discriminatory treatment of minority property is still practised today in a country poised to enter the European Union. The arbitrary confiscation of ecclesiastical foundations continues unabated and this occurs owing to the fact that despite the native Christian population of Turkey, preceding its Turkic compatriots by over a thousand years, its ecclesiastical foundations are considered as foreign and thus subject to strict controls and discriminatory tax laws that negate any right to free enjoyment of any properties that these may hold. As minority law expert Kezban Hatemi stated recently at a conference in Turkey: "A foreigner is a person who is not a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. Foundations of congregations are foundations set up by people who are citizens of the Republic of Turkey coming together. This classification shows non-Muslim citizens of the Republic of Turkey as if they were foreigners. This mentality is the obstacle to democracy".
Dr Baskin Oran, professor of Political Sciences at Ankara University has rightly pointed out that the guiding ideology of the Turkish State and how it defines its citizens is the font of such discriminatory practices: "[The concept of] Turk signifies an ethnic group, not a nation. When this is the case we continuously come across things like this. This way, the non-Muslims are formally being left out of the concept of citizenship. This leads not to being a non-Muslim but to being a non-citizen."
Interestingly enough, it appears that God has not sat by with his arms folded while his family has had its demesne denuded by employees of a rival franchisor. Residents of Buyukdere recently went to the press complaining about the property they were given by the state, which had previously belonged to Christian foundations, after their ethnic cleansing in 1915. The villagers are under the impression that the property and the buildings are cursed. The authorities have turned a church into a school, which is impossible to heat in the winter and cool in the summer and villagers are very unhappy about it. This correlates with anecdotal evidence I collected in Turkey from older citizens to the effect that fruit and vegetables lack the succulence they once had after the expulsion of the Christians.
Divine wrath visited upon horticulture perhaps? In a world where God can be sued and His Son made into a feudal land seigneur, anything is possible. We leave you now with a quote from the Parable of the Landowner, spoken by the Arch-taxpayer himself: "Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 'Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good? So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen."

First published in NKEE on 4 September 2006